Comment The government wants to stop children getting easy access to hard-core pornography: but the interwebs have exploded in righteous indignation at the apparent emergence of a police state.
The Prime Minister wants ISPs to filter pornography, just as mobile operators have been doing for half a decade or so. Users wanting to access adult content will have to opt in, just as wireless users do today, and everyone else will get a censored version of the internet with the naughty bits removed, which sounds reasonable enough but has half the internet up in arms.
Let's be clear: most UK ISPs already censor the internet using the Internet Watch Foundation's list of sites hosting child porn, and mobile operators have been blocking adult content for years with few complaints, so it's far from obvious what everyone is making such a fuss about.
Right now an O2 customer on a 3G network, at 2.1GHz, can't access pornography, but should the same customer switch to O2's wi-fi network at 2.4GHz, then the porn flows again - that's a stupid anomaly which has to go, one way or another.
Of course there are arguments about which sites constitute porn, but those arguments have already been had. If you want to know if a specific site will get blocked by an ISP then just try to access it on your phone, over the mobile network, and if you feel its unfairly blocked then there's an established procedure to have sites investigated and unblocked. None of this is new, and we've known for years that the mobile implementation was a testing ground for the fixed networks.
The next argument against default filtering is that the technically-literate will simply surmount it, which is true and shouldn't concern anyone. The idea isn't to prevent users accessing pornography, but to prevent anyone accidentally stumbling into it and letting those who pay for the access control what is accessed.
Children are getting far more access to pornography than they used to, and it's not doing them any good at all. Western society increasingly covers real bodies while exposing the plastic perfection at every turn, leading to an explosion in genital plastic surgery, for those who can afford it, and a plethora of issues around self-image for those who can't. Manufactured porn creates expectations to which the sticky fumbling of teenage exploration can't compare, and which is hardly comparable to the dodgy magazines and saucy VHS of yesteryear.
These measures aren't aimed at El Reg readers, who probably have their own Tomato installed on a hacked router, but at the majority of internet users who don't know one end of a CAT5 from the other. A surprising number of parents simply assume the internet is already filtered, just like the TV has a watershed, and their children are wandering unprotected on an open network parts of which are really quite unpleasant.
Everyone knows one should educate one's children, teach them proportional reactions and try to prepare them for a time when one won't be around to help them deal with the world, but just as we feel confident sitting them in front of the TV before nine so we should be able to log them onto the internet without having to look over their shoulder the whole time (which limits their freedom in other ways, and becomes impractical as the number of children increases). Right now that's technically possible, but too complicated for millions of users.
An opt-in scheme would be better, just as TalkTalk already offers, but the technically illiterate wouldn't know to select it, so by forcing everyone to make a decision the new scheme will force those who opt out to think about what they're doing.
As for the idea that ISPs, and by extension the UK government, will get a list of those who like porn that makes no sense. One might equally be a fan of spoof religions, or Strawberry Vodka, or even pretty underwear, all of which are firmly labelled "adults only" in the metadata and thus could easily end up on the wrong side of any content filter (Good God! - Ed).
The technically literate can't agree in the best way to control access to the internet, as our last discussion on the issue demonstrates, but everyone agrees that device-level filtering is pointless as tablets, phones and phablets multiply. Filtering has to be done at the network or router level, and only by making users request the latter can we be confident that they've given the matter any thought at all.
Some may decide their children can cope with everything the internet throws at them, but at least it’s a conscious decision - while ignoring the problem will no longer be an option. ®